Skiing with a 3 Year Old

skiing with a 3 year oldOne of the questions I get asked the most is when to start a young child skiing. The answer requires some parental intuition. Does your child enjoy playing outside in the snow? How do your child respond to people he or she doesn’t know? What follows: our tips on skiing with a 3 year old.

At Whiteface, where I teach, children must be four years old to participate in a group lesson environment like our Play and Ski program. Younger kids learn best one-on-one.

The choice between using a ski instructor for private lessons and teaching your child yourself depends on several factors. How comfortable are you skiing in a wedge with your child?

Children learn by watching. Young kids may not be comfortable with anyone other than a parent, so that may limit your options. Be honest with yourself about your patience, temperament, and experience to pull it off. Also trying to teach a young child to ski while snowboarding simply doesn’t work.

A “noodle” to connect the ski tips and keep the skis in a wedge is a great tool. Teach the wedge by pushing the heels out into the “pizza” shape. I highly recommend the Racer Chaser harness. The harness should fit snugly. It has D hooks on the hips that connect to the reigns. With the child in the wedge, pull very lightly on one reign as you steer the child in that direction. Note in the photo that the rein on the other side is slack. Then encourage the child to steer or point his or her feet in the desired direction.

The harness is only for gentle green slopes. If you’re applying tension on the reins to control your child’s speed, then the slope is too steep. The key is skiing a lot of comfortable terrain before taking the harness off and then more before moving to stepper green terrain. You want your child balanced, not leaning back. Never ski with a child between your legs; it’s dangerous and encourages leaning back — a habit that will be very difficult to unlearn. Consider bringing in a professional ski instruction for private lessons to take it to the next level, beyond the harness.

The younger the child, the shorter the skiing experience should be. A 3-year-old may only ski for 40 minutes, followed by some hot chocolate. Select days with nice weather, so that it’s fun to be outside. The key is to keep it fun and shut it down when the smiles stop.

14 comments on “Skiing with a 3 Year Old

  1. Timely article and good points. Check out the video I posted yesterday in the Kid Stoke thread (in The Woodstove forum). It shows pretty much what the coach is talking about, not to mention a cute kid and fun video by a proud dad.

  2. My youngest son started a couple wks shy of his 3rd Birthday.Just in time since my older children stopped skiing with me at our local hill because of their friends and age. I Never used harness, started on the magic carpet on the beginner slopes after about 4 hrs we headed down the hill . It shined a whole different light on our small 650 vert hill and really brought more appreciation to the place and its facilities.

    Now at age seven he can ski bell to bell and does anywhere from 25 to 30 days. I always say “Want to spend special time with your children teach them to ski or snowboard. The rewards will be endless.”

  3. I suggest using the harness for kids 3 or younger. Once your kids get to 4 put them in a ski school program or private lessons.

  4. One of the best things that I have found for kids that little, was a little cord that hooks the tip of their skis together. It’s a short bungee cord with a c clamp on each end. The best part was all they have to do is spread their legs and they slow down, or stop. It was a bit hard to remove though, he didn’t think he could ski without it. He did fine though, when he had it on he could go down any trail. We did have to be a bit more careful without it.

  5. It’s called it a noodle or edgy wedgy. It’s essential for teaching a 2 or 3 year old but as they get older they have the leg strength to hold the wedge with out it.

  6. All good stuff here. I started my son at 2.5 and my daughter at 3. My son is 6 and hits the park hard, the moguls harder and the race course hardest. Daughter is making nice turns on light green slopes. (she wants to go fast–thus has no incentive to turn, beside the external incentives I provide)

    My additions:

    1) Flat terrain—until they are so bored–make them race, big turns, jumps– getting steeper, you only enforce bad habits.

    2) Don’t talk. Follow me, let me follow you or Do This…should be your only words. They are not listening. I teach lots of kids, if you can get them to rate instructors, those that ski more and talk less win. Let the mountain teach them until 6.

    3) Short skis… start with 67s…until 5. Then move up to 88s for 5 and 6. My 6.5 yr just moved to 100s. Don’t be tempted to size up.

    4) Spend TONS of time inside, putting on boots, walking in skis (circles, chasing, jumping etc). Put on gloves (lots of times). It’s 70 degrees will be 25-35 degrees outside and your child will be very excited. Better they learn the basics in comfort. You will be rewarded with a 3 yr old who can put on her own mittens (not gloves) and skis when you are on snow. I practiced 4 nights a week playing games.

    5) Helmets please!

    6) Stickers–on skis and helmets, lots of them. It makes them their own. I just ordered (from Zazzel) my own version of a sticker to hand out to my own kids and those I teach… “Shut up and SKI” Meant for my fellow instructors when they get my kids. Centered directly on their helmet.

  7. PS…It is my feeling (and experience) that if you have to use ski bungees…go with a shorter ski and do much more indoor work. AND NEVER work a kid backwards. If he or she are making nice turns using “french fries.” Don’t ask them to make “pizza.” You won! Move on. I see it every day and cry. Invest in a deep shape 67cm ski. Give or sell it away after 2 yrs. Use your local shop first, but if they can’t help, great used stuff for kids.

  8. For those that don’t have kids yet…or those that are too young to ski. Practice your backwards skiing. Hand out reaching to your kid who has her hand in front (ding, ding, ding,) reaching for you. You turn left and right and she does the same…no words spoken. If he gets going to fast you simply catch them or grab hands…slow down and then push back off skiing in front again. VIOLA…

    And stop to eat the snow, its great fun.

    Pack 3 pair of mittens. The ones the the zippers are best.

  9. A few comments.

    I’m super against skiing backwards as an instructor with kids. They only learn by watching and if you are skiing backwards they can’t learn from you. If you have to ski backwards then you probably are on too steep a slope.

    With a 1, 2 or 3 year old the noodle is very helpful to start but once they can make a wedge on their own leave it on only one ski so the child can still see it but it’s not connected then loose it for good.

    As you might notice in the photo I elected with my own child at age 21 months to not have him in a helmet. This is because with really small kids their head is so heavy compared to their body and a helmet only makes that worse plus finding a helmet that fits right for that young of a child is impossible. If you are using a harness on an uncrowded slope that is basically flat it was a professional and parental choice. From age 2.5 on he has never skied without the helmet.

  10. The harness is key. I recommend a ski bums harness which you can find on amazon. It is very sturdy and has two important features: a handle to assist in picking up your child, and a little backpack to put the straps in between runs. Start slow – the first few times skiing should be focused on balance. Then introduce the pizza and some turning well. My three year old daughter started this year and is loving it. Half of her excitement is that she can do what her 6year old brother is doing.

  11. Coach Z – great post! (And others – great comments).

    In terms of gear, how long can a three or four year go on their skis (realizing it depends on how they progress). I am trying to figure out how cost-effective it is to buy skis or lease em for a season. This year, while my son is just turning 3 (today is his bday) I may only take him once.

    Also in terms of gear, what do people do about ski helmets and boots? Presumably the same pair(s) will fit a kid for a season, but I kind of doubt they go for two. Are boots and helmets the kinds of things that people rent for the season due to growth issues? Or do folks tend to just get them used (not sure I could get my wife to agree to that on the helmet)?

    What I expect will happen is that next season we will go 5-10 times next season.


  12. For a 3 year old equipment can be pretty challenging as they don’t make many boots that small. Be realistic about this year you are only going to ski a few days and he will only do at most an hour a day. Just rent for this year.

    Check on resale shops in your area or ski swaps next fall. You can not get two seasons out of boots. They need to fit right. We once had to buy two pairs of boots in the same season due to a growth spurt. Season long rentals are a good option for many families until they need better equipment.

    I’d buy a helmet.

  13. An update from the author:

    I’ve seen a serious promo effort on Facebook for a harness device that claims it’s a dad that figured out a better way to get their kids skiing. That device’s web site and videos show kids way too big using it and also using it on terrain that is too steep. These harnesses are only for kids up to max 4 years old and at 4 I’d rather see them in a regular ski lesson environment. Also note that these teaching tools are only for use on the flattest greens. Kids should not be on these devices on steeper trails. If you are using the tethers to control their speed you are doing it wrong and hurting their future progress as well as being very unsafe with your kid. Finally the harness in that ad connects in the wrong place is not tight enough – I have no financial interest in Racer Chaser but that is the best one available.

    A personal comment my son in the photo who was 21 months old when he started skiing just made the podium as a first year U16 in a Super G and was going well over 60 mph on the course. Time flies by and enjoy all the stages of skiing with your kids as they come.

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